Eating Al Fresco Right Into Autumn

By: Martianne Stanger

Moms everywhere attempt to balance budget, time, and convenience while feeding their families as well as they can.  Kristin’s recent posts on “Kale Chips” and “Creating Healthy Eating Habits” and Kris’ on “Eat Your Veggies” attest to that.  My personal daily experience does too.

Straight through Autumn, many of our family meals are eaten al fresco.  As a matter of fact, as I write this, we have just finished up our fifth straight outdoor mealtime in a row. That’s right, between our front yard and local parks, we have been picnicking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two days straight as a part of our family mission to spend ample time outdoors.

How might we eat a variety of foods outdoors without getting bored?

Eating Al Fresco

Firstly, when we eat meals in the front yard, we don’t eat traditional picnic food.  Instead, we set out a blanket or table and eat whatever home-cooked menu we would have eaten inside.  For example, this morning, we brought our fruit and coconut pancakes outside.  Last night, chicken, sweet potato fries, watermelon, and steamed veggies were the al fresco fare.

Secondly, for picnics beyond the front door, we use the strategies I distilled down to a science last year, which are fully explained on our family blog in the post Mix-and-Match: A How-To for Perfect Picnics for Picky Eaters with Montessori Overtones.

Essentially, I have the children help me pack a variety of preferred and “new” foods by category (proteins, fruits and vegetables, carbs, and treats), making sure there are at least two choices per category.  Then, once we lay our picnic blanket out, I strategically offer the plant-strong and “new” foods first.  Finally, we lay out the rest of the smorgasbord, relax and enjoy.

Considering Special Diets

What I especially like about our Mix-and-Match picnic formula is that it is special-diet friendly.  We do not get caught up in thinking “picnic” equals specific foods (say fried chicken and potato salad or nut butter sandwiches and apple slices).  Instead, our picnics are based on flexible categories of foods that allow for changes when specific dietary needs are present.

With friends with nut allergies?  No problem – we leave the nuts and nut butters at home and go with seeds, seed butters, beans and/or meat slices and cubes.

Needing a meal to balance too much meat consumption?  In go the nuts, seeds, boiled eggs, etc.

And, most importantly for us, having gone gluten-free, casein-free, additive / preservative / dye-free and increasingly unprocessed?  Skip the leftover pasta, delightful loaves of bread, handy wraps, and yummy graham sticks as the carb/treat portion of the picnic and think organic corn chips, GFCF pretzels, homemade muffins, leftover GFCF pancakes, and the like.

Whatever way we pack them, it seems we all enjoy our meals better outside during fair weather.  The kids tend to be a little more adventurous about what they will try and the fresh air makes everything seem to taste better.

Whether we are at a free concerts, the beach, the park, or even just in our front yard, outdoor meals keep us all healthy, happy and full straight through the fall.

How about you? What are your favorite al fresco meal foods and recipes? Do you picnic as long as the weather is good, no matter what the season?


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